‘Death knell’ has rung ending a much hyped US missile program

WASHINGTON, US — The US Air Force will not benefit from the AGM-138A ARRW hypersonic missile. The missile has been in development for the past few years, but a series of failed tests sounded the death knell, ending the program. The failure of Lockheed Martin, developer of the AGM-183A ARRW was disclosed by the US Air Force [USAF] Acquisition chief during a congressional hearing.

Unknown problem: Lockheed's AGM-183A missile didn't launch again
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Earlier that week, the final test of the missile, which was meant to compete with Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons, was conducted. However, the test was again a failure and was confirmed by US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. He said the tests were unsuccessful and the military did not get the necessary data that was needed.

A ray of hope appeared for Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force when the US B-52H Stratofortress bomber successfully launched the AGM-183 AARRW late last year. This missile was developed to meet the needs of the Air Force to engage heavily defended enemy targets at long ranges. The missile was designed to hit military bases and surface warships at a distance.

However, this was one of the few successful tests against the background of most of the failed ones. The failed tests and the end of the AGM-183A ARRW program have already given rise to new rumors in the US. Efforts are said to be focused on America’s next promising weapon – the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile [HACM]. This program is different and again under the supervision of the US Air Force.

According to comments from the Pentagon, the ARRW will continue to exist, at least until the tests are completed. But there is no money for the program and no orders. Those are the words at the congressional hearing, which literally read: “we currently have no money planned in the five-year budget for ARRW.”

However, Andrew Hunter, who is the assistant secretary of the US Air Force, said the remaining two tests would be completed. He believed that the ARRW should be prototyped, although the Air Force refused to buy it. Hunter says the tests will be necessary at least as much as possible to gather as much information as possible. At some point, this information would be useful for future developments in the field of hypersonic weapons.

At least another $150 million is expected to flow through the program, however. At least that’s Hunter’s pleas, as this money will be needed to complete the tests. When the program is over, that money may turn out to be quite wisely spent, as it will have provided tests, assessments and data from them. I.e. this money can be a kind of boost for the next projects.

It appears that one of Lockheed Martin’s competitors, Raytheon, will be pleased. With ARRW gone, it means more money for their HAWC program and more attention to their testing.

To Moscow in minutes - the US tested a LEO missile warhead
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Thus, the Boeing and Raytheon HACM project comes to the fore. This program should provide a hypersonic missile, smaller in size with a shorter range than the ARRW but with a different principle of operation – by air-breathing propulsion. The interest in this missile is already evident because just days ago, on March 28th, Frank Kendall said exactly this: “At this point we are more committed to the HACM than the ARRW.”

HACM has one quite tangible advantage over the previously advertised ARRW – it is smaller. if the ARRW due to its size is limited in which carriers to launch it, such as the US strategic bombers, the HACM can provide an opportunity for tactical and combat aircraft to also be included in its carrier list. This clearly increases the combat capability of the US Air Force.

According to preliminary information, for example, the F-15EH fighters of the Air Force will be the first to take on board the HACM. Some have speculated that it could be the F-35, but those familiar with the two fighters know that the F-35’s chance of mounting the HACM is slim to none due to its smaller payload capacity compared to the F-15EX.

Undoubtedly, the cancellation of the ARRW is not good news for the Air Force. Sooner or later the US will “break through” this technology and produce a hypersonic missile, there is no doubt. But with their biggest hope to date on hold, the time for that breakthrough is lengthening even further. And it comes at a time when China is beginning to bitterly oppose the US, at the same time beginning to openly talk about war.

All eyes are now on HACM. If everything goes well and the tests turn out to be successful, it is expected that sometime in 2027 the first missiles of this model will enter the inventory of the Air Force.


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